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Book Review 53: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

26 Dec

It’s unlikely I can write a review that adds anything to what has already been written about this book. This is delightful young adult fiction. Hazel and Augustus are two teenagers living with and trying to survive cancer. They meet in a cancer support group. If you’re reading this book, you know there’s not going to be a happy ending. It’s simply impossible.

But unlike a run of the mill Nicholas Sparks story (I’m thinking of A Walk to Remember, specifically), this book doesn’t feel cheap. The cancer and all the pain, suffering and death that can accompany it are not some plot twist thrown in as an artificial conflict for the characters. You know about the cancer from the beginning. It’s what brings Hazel and Augustus together. The tragedies that ensure aren’t cheap; they are devastating.

It sounds crazy to say, because the cancer was omnipresent in the book (Hazel’s oxygen tank, multiple visits to the hospital, a make-a-wish foundation style trip to Europe). It was inescapable. But when Hazel and Augustus were together, you kind of forgot they had cancer. They were just regular, awkward, lovestruck teenagers trying to figure out how to make a relationship work. They had been out of the social game for so long due to their illness; their stilted interactions and attempts at flirting are impossibly endearing. They feel so normal, even though you know that the lives these kids lead are incredibly painful and exhausting and not happily normal. Continue reading

Book Review 31: Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Maria Pessl

27 May

I’m going to be gushing a lot in some of my upcoming posts. I’ve been on a serious roll with reading books I love, probably because I did a ton of research on what to read so I could stop reading crap and start reading books I’m obsessed with, rather than lukewarm towards.

Anyway, Maria Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics goes on the gush list. Blue van Meer is the protagonist, who has spent her life traveling from city to city with her professor father, who was constantly guest lecturing at some rural university or another. And during her senior year, she finds herself at the St. Galloway school in North Carolina. And while she finally finds a place to belong, she finds herself entangled in the odd, complicated and slightly terrifying world of a teacher and the teacher’s favorite students.

This book expertly straddled two genres.  There was a significant amount of plot and character development dedicated to Blue, and her friends, as they navigate the awkward world of high school under the tutelage of a slightly unhinged, but absolutely magnetic, teacher. And this book was also a traditional thriller, with Blue introducing the mystery at the beginning, and the psychological underpinnings of the mystery unraveled slowly over the course of the book.

This book reminded me a lot of The Secret History, but I think I prefer Special Topics. The end of this book throws a curve ball at you that I, for one, was not expecting. Continue reading

Book Review 30: Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty

27 May

God, I loved this book. I can’t believe I didn’t read this when it came out in 2001, when I was actually in the target demographic. But Jessica Darling is such a wonderful young adult character and I love her just as much as a 26 year old as I probably would have as a 14 year old.

Jessica’s best friend Hope moves away, stranding Jessica in her New Jersey high school with the rest of their group of friends, who Jessica strongly feels are significantly inferior to Hope.  Jessica has her best guy friend, who has clear ulterior motives as he’s been in love with her since middle school. The remaining girls – one a little “slutty,” one pretty girl with impossible dreams and a boyfriend, and one follower – are just not Hope.

What I think this book captures about high school better than most is that the drama of high school isn’t the build up to a Major Event.  How many young adult books have you read that centered around prom, or homecoming, or a major sporting event, or some Very Special Event? Continue reading

Book Review #58: Sweet Valley Confidential by Francine Pascal

4 Sep

Sweet Valley Confidential is pure, unadulterated nostalgia. I grew up devouring the Sweet Valley High Series, following them on to college. They were a few years older in the books than my age, so I felt like they did everything first. I read about their high school adventures while in middle school, and their college escapades while in high school.

Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield have the same appeal that the characters of Sex and the City have. Everyone identifies a little bit with both sisters, because they are sort of extreme versions of character traits most of us have. Elizabeth is smart, studious, practical and down to earth. And Jessica is impulsive, emotional and compassionate.

Francine Pascal wrote this recently, and it serves as a “where are they now?” for some of the most beloved characters in young adult fiction. Elizabeth is living in New York City, estranged from Jessica because she found out Jessica was having an affair with her fiance. And yes, that fiance was Todd Wilkins. Jessica is working her charismatic magic as a PR girl in California, but struggling through a dark period as she realizes that her relationship with Todd lost her her sister. Continue reading

Book Review #42: The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton

9 Jul

This book was fascinating. It was one of the more challenging things I’ve read recently. The book tells the story of a teacher who has an affair with a high school student. The book covers the reactions of the other students, and a local theater that uses the story as inspiration for a wildly creative play in the spring. The chapters about the girls are told chronologically; the theater pieces are non-linear. And it becomes increasingly difficult to identify the line between what is real and what is the play as the worlds start to collapse in on each other.

Part of what made this so gripping was that the books discusses the girls’ reaction to the scandal in an uncomfortable way. Some of the girls find themselves jealous, wondering why the teacher told her and not them. And some find themselves recognizing their own sexuality for the first time, although they’re still so young.  Continue reading

Book Review #38: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

6 Jul

I had never heard of Ender’s Game until about a year ago when I read about the movie casting on Deadline. They assembled a formidable cast of young actors and actresses. And well, Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff? Viola Davis as Gwen Anderson? Obviously.

I had no idea that it was a classic Sci Fi book that many, many of my male and female friends cite as the reason they love Sci Fi. Or that people read it in school. Or that it was so awesome.

The premise of the book is that the government identifies genius children and selects the most outstanding children to attend battle training school, in hopes they will someday defeat the aliens threatening their country. Families are permitted two children, but if the first two children show particular promise, they can produce a third child in hopes of creating another prodigy child. Ender (Asa Butterfield) is one of these third children.

Ender, like Neo, or Harry Potter (or Katie Holmes) is the chosen one. Continue reading

5/19 Borrowed Books

19 May

Fuel for your reading binges.

Saturn V in KSC

Saturn V in KSC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Children’s – Mookology compares Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabaret with Martin Sorcese’s recent film adaptation, Hugo. My thoughts? Hugo was definitely a movie to be seen in theatres, in 3D. Beautiful!
  • Celebrity  – For the celebrity obsessed (like myself), here’s a slightly outdated list of celebrity bios you should read. For inside information and gossip on what actually happens in the Hollywood machine.
  • Non-Fiction  – I just visited the Kennedy Space Center on vacation and when I left…all I could think about were Russian astronauts. Their space program was bigger and better, yet so little has been written about it (that I could turn up). Anyways, Russia’s Cosmonauts: Inside the Yuri Gargain Training Centeis first on my non-American space reading list. 
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